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A Comprehensive Guide to Criminal Trespass in California

It might have come as a shock to you to be charged with criminal trespass. Perhaps, like most people, you never knew that trespass could, in fact, be a crime. Most people only think of civil action (lawsuits) when they think of trespass. But California actually has very comprehensive criminal trespass laws.

Trespass can be charged both as a criminal offense and pursued as a civil wrong. However, the standard of proof to prosecute it as a crime is usually much higher. California’s detailed trespassing laws cover various forms of criminal trespass. It helps to understand these laws if you are facing criminal trespass charges.

What Is Criminal Trespass in California?

The California Penal Code identifies several actions that constitute criminal trespass. Therefore, there is no one definition of criminal trespass in California. However, based on the Penal Code 602 PC, criminal trespass involves the following:

  • entering another person’s property consent from an authorized person
  • refusing to leave private property after being asked to do so by an authorized person

An authorized person here refers to the owner, the owner’s agent, or anyone in lawful possession of the property. It could also refer to a peace officer following the request of any of the previously mentioned people.

Trespass involves willfully entering or staying on another’s property without appropriate consent. California Criminal Jury Instructions 2931 states that “willfully” means “willingly or on purpose.” Under California law, trespass may be charged as an infraction, misdemeanor, or felony.

Forms of Criminal Trespass under California Law

California’s trespass law is contained in Penal Code 601 & 602 PC. Under the code, there are several forms of trespass identified.

Trespassing Infractions

Infractions are the least severe type of offense in California. Accordingly, they attract no jail time but are subject to fines under the Penal Code. Some notable forms of trespass that are infractions include:

  • Knowingly entering any airport operations area, passenger vessel terminal, or public transit facility as an unauthorized person if the area has notices restricting access to authorized personnel only. The penalty is a fine of not more than $100.
  • Intentionally avoiding submission to screening and inspection when entering a sterile area of an airport, passenger vessel terminal, or public transit facility. The penalty for a first-time offender is a fine of not more than $500.
  • Knowingly entering or remaining in a neonatal unit, maternity ward, or birthing center at a clinic or hospital without any lawful business to pursue therein. The penalty is a fine of not more than $100.
  • Willfully entering enclosed or cultivated land without written permission from an authorized person. The penalty for a first-time offender is a fine of $75.

Misdemeanor Trespass

Most forms of trespass in California Penal Code 602 are misdemeanors. Some are woblettes and can be charged as both misdemeanors and infractions. The penalty for misdemeanor trespass is a term of up to one year in a county jail, a fine of $1000 maximum, or both.

Examples of misdemeanor trespass offenses in the code include:

  • Cutting down, destroying, or carrying away any kind of wood on another person’s land
  • Knowingly skiing in an area that is closed to the public and that has signs indicating so
  • Maliciously tearing down or destroying any notice forbidding shooting on private property
  • Entering and occupying real property without the consent of an authorized person
  • Entering any land to damage property. Alternatively, interfering with the property rights of a land owner, owner’s agent, or the person in lawful possession.

Felony Trespass

The provision for the crime of felony trespass is in California Penal Code 601 PC. It is also called “aggravated trespass” and can punished as both a felony and a misdemeanor. The prosecution determines which charge to bring based on the facts of the case. It occurs when you make a credible threat to physically hurt someone and then:

  • entering their home within 30 days of the threat with the intent to carry it out
  • entering their workplace within 30 days with the intent to execute the threat

If prosecuted as a felony, the penalty is imprisonment in a county jail for between 16 months and three years. As a misdemeanor, it could attract up to a year in county jail, a fine of $2000 maximum, or both.

If you are facing trespass charges, a skilled criminal defense attorney may be able to help you. It is vital that you act fast to make sure they can intervene in your case as soon as possible. Our Los Angeles attorneys will create a defense strategy tailored to the facts of your case. Nonetheless, the following are some common defenses to trespassing charges:

  • Consent: A common element across trespass offenses is the lack of relevant consent. This consent must come from the owner, their agent, or the legal occupant of the premises. If it can be proved that you had consent from either of these parties, you will not be guilty of trespass. For example, where the landlord of a home invites you to a property but forgets to inform the tenant. If the tenant calls the police and you are arrested for trespass, you have the defense of consent.
  • No intent to interfere: Depending on the facts of the case, the prosecution may need to prove that you intended to interfere with the property. If you can refute that by proving that no such intention was present, you may be able to defeat the trespass charge.
  • Lack of “no trespassing” sign: You can also claim that you did not know the property was restricted land. This defense could work if there were no signs or demarcations indicating so.
  • Right to be on the property: You can claim you had a right to be on the property. E.g., public officers doing their lawful duty have an implied right to enter private property.

Contact our Van Nuys property crimes attorneys for criminal defense in California today.

Your California Criminal Trespass Attorneys

If you are facing a criminal trespassing charge in California, we may be able to help you. Our lawyers at the Law Offices of Christopher Chaney are experienced criminal attorneys. We have years of experience providing successful legal defense to our clients. Contact us today for a free consultation to discuss how best we can help you.

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